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Parental Notification Law Being Considered in Illinois
by Charlsie Dewey

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Currently restrictions on abortion rights for minors in the state of Illinois are being considered as the American Civil Liberties Union ( ACLU ) takes on the Illinois Attorney General's office over the 1995 Parental Notification Act.

The Parental Notification Act requires that women under 18 notify a parent or other guardian within 48 hours prior to obtaining an abortion. Women who feel their health or safety would be at risk by notifying a parent or guardian can attempt to bypass the requirement by appearing in court and explaining their situation to a judge.

Although the Illinois General Assembly passed the act in 1995, an injunction was placed on the measure by federal courts until specific rules concerning bypass procedures were created.

For 11 years the act was dormant. Then in September 2006, the Illinois State Court issued rules for the bypass procedure and Attorney General Lisa Madigan asked the federal court to remove the injunction, allowing the law to be enforced.

The ACLU and the Illinois Attorney General's office are now in a legal battle over whether the injunction should be lifted. Both filed briefs in May and are awaiting a court decision.

Recently, the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health ( ICAH ) staged a rally outside of Madigan's office and the organization is preparing for a long fight to have the act repealed if the injunction is lifted.

Soo Ji Min, ICAH's executive director, discussed why ICAH plans to fight to have the Parental Notification Act repealed, saying, 'We have historically opposed any restrictions on access for young women. That includes access to abortion specifically and sexual healthcare generally. ... We believe young women are able to make their own reproductive health decisions.'

Min added, 'Research has shown that a majority of women already talk to a parent about getting an abortion, and those who don't, cite fears of abuse or eviction as their primary reason for not telling their parents.'

According to Ann Spillane, Madigan's chief of staff, the bypass would allow young women to have the notification waived in these types of situations. The court can waive the notice if the minor is found to be sufficiently mature and well enough informed or if the notification would not be in her best interest.

Under the law the woman would have a right to an appointed guardian and to an attorney. The rules enforce confidentiality, sealed records and strict time limits for the entire process. There is no cost to the woman seeking the bypass.

'Judges have no special abilities that qualify them to determine what's the best course of medical treatment for a young woman,' said Min. 'That's a decision that belongs to a young woman in her position. In addition, ... for immigrants, [ women with ] low income [ and ] women of color—all of those groups—we know that the judicial system can be very intimidating, discriminating [ and ] overwhelming. The young woman has to figure out how to access the court system, prepare the paperwork and skip school to go to court to testify in a courtroom in front of a judge about why she wants to have an abortion. It creates multiple barriers and when you add on cultural and linguistic [ issues ] , it gets even more difficult in terms of restricting access.'

Opponents to the law believe that it does not protect the safety or health of the young woman and that many will seek dangerous avenues to obtain the desired abortion instead of facing the court system or risk adverse reactions from their families.

An ACLU report from 2001, Laws Restricting Teenagers' Access to Abortion, outlines just that type of situation: 'One of the very first teens who was forced to notify a parent under Colorado's parental notice law was kicked out of her home when her mother learned of her pregnancy. Her mother took the money the teen had saved for the abortion and threatened to disown her if she went through with the procedure. When the teen called the clinic to reschedule her appointment, she was living in a friend's car.'

According to Min, studies have also shown that 74 percent of females aged 15 already report to one of their parents about the decision to have an abortion, and for females aged 14 it's 90 percent.

Min said that ' [ n ] otification is ad hoc consent as far as we're concerned. … Roe v. Wade gives states the ability to regulate abortion so, without completely abolishing it…what the parental notification laws do are regulate access. That's really the strategy that opponents to abortion and reproductive freedom have sort of successfully done is to chip away at access. … Even though we have access, the way that some states have gone about this in terms of creating barriers it's as if we have no access in place at all.'

Currently, all but six states and Washington, D.C., have notification or consent laws, and the New Hampshire State Senate recently voted to repeal the state's parental notification law, making it the first state to do so as well as giving opponents of other states parental notification and consent laws hope for repeal.

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